Broken Mirror? New Thinking on Successful Sales Conversations


New research introduces a surprising perspective on the use of the mirroring technique in sales

Mirroring is a concept that emerged from the world of psychology and has been fully absorbed in today’s sales training approaches. In fact, it’s almost considered a given.

While the original concept referred to subconscious behavior in which one person imitates the gestures, speech patterns and attitudes of others, there’s been a concerted effort to turn this into a conscious behavior when it comes to professional selling.

It’s thought that when you adopt the verbal and physical behaviors of your prospects you quickly gain rapport with them. Do they speak relatively slowly? Then, slow down the pace. Do they speak at a fast clip? Then, pick it up. By imitating your prospect’s speech pace and volume, it was thought, you’d demonstrate your full attention and perhaps empathy for the other.

Seems logical. This is a common trait with spouses and close friends who mimic each other’s speech patterns, phrases, and mannerisms – they have subconsciously begun to mirror each other.

What if we practiced this behavior with care and attention, adopting this technique to make sales conversations more powerful and memorable? They’d be much more successful, right?

Well, maybe not.

Now comes some new research – based on the statistical analysis of one million sales calls – suggesting this technique isn’t as valid and powerful as you might have believed. The research, which comes from A.I.-based, challenges the conventional wisdom of mirroring in sales conversations.

According to the research, top performers do not use this technique. They do the opposite: “Rather than copying their prospects’ talking speed, they get their prospects to copy theirs. Top salespeople get customers to adjust their rate by 13% on average, all within the first three minutes of the call,” writes Chris Orlab, Gong’s product marketing manager.

By contrast, average performers adjust their talk speed by 7% to mirror the prospect. In fact, the prospect’s speed changes very little.

The research goes further, suggesting “sentiment” patterns (which reflect whether language is positive or negative) don’t change much in top performers either. In fact, prospects become more or less positive to align with the top reps (not the other way around).

These are just some of the findings presented in this fascinating study.

Indeed, it speaks to when top reps like to bring up pricing (typically in the 38-46 minute window) and what language resonates most. While the study does validate the conventional wisdom that top reps listen more than weak performers, it punctuates this finding with the insight that top reps also have more “back and forth dialogue” with their prospects than other reps.

This gives you a sense of the sales-related insights we can continue to gather through the power of data analysis and artificial intelligence going forward. As “Conversation Intelligence” proves to be a critical new category in the sales performance arena, expect increasing attention to shift to the management, content, and perpetual improvement of sales conversations.

Successful sales conversations demand powerful messaging and guided support. Find out how Visible Impact’s Sales Activation program can arm your team for conversations that resonate. Contact me for a 20-minute briefing and discussion.

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